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Category Archives: Dating Theory

Echoing my earlier post on religion and sexuality, Conor Friesdersdorf writes:

Orthodox Catholics believe sex outside marriage is sinful, that it goes against the wishes of God. In asserting so, they exert powerful influence on a very few people, and effectively cede all ethical questions concerning pre-marital sex to Dr. Drew, Dan Savage, sundry glossy magazines, the Office of Campus Life Orientation Coordinator, and the films of Judd Apatow.

His whole post is worth reading, as is the longer piece he references, Benjamin Dueholm’s thorough analysis of advice columnist Dan Savage.

In an earlier post, I noted how academia’s disinterest in important questions related to dating facilitated the rise of amateur theory to take its place.  One problem with this is that amateur theory tends to be bad, scientifically.  A second problem is that it tends to be unethical, since amateur authors are not constrained by the same ethical standards usually applied to academia.  Feminist Clarisse Thorn (who has an interesting and amicable interview with Neil Strauss) writes:

Some pickup advice only works because it capitalizes on the insecurities of women who have low self-esteem, and can manipulate those women — not because those women actually want to have sex…some pickup artists describe using “freeze-outs” on women who say they don’t want to have sex…the woman says no, the pickup artist says “Okay,” … and then he turns away from her and starts checking his email or doing something else very boring that does not include her…he goes cold and ignores her until she agrees to have sex with him.

I find this pretty deplorable, ethically.  But so long as pickup artists remain an authority on dating theory, men are going to listen to them.

Historically, religion has been the strongest moral authority, but unfortunately, modern religion is not well positioned to confront pickup artists.  First, I suspect that many young men who look to pickup artists for advice are fairly alienated from religious institutions.  But second, and more importantly, the advice modern religion offers is antiquated, incomplete, and bad.  The two primary distinctions drawn by religion with regard to the ethics of sexuality are marriage and intent to procreate.  For most religions, any sexuality that fails to comply with one or both of these distinctions is at worst morally evil, and at best morally neutral.  This leaves an enormous gray area, wherein an engaged couple’s sexuality is often treated the same as when a guy meets a girl in a bar, lies to get her into bed, and then never contacts her again.  Clearly there’s a distinction to be made between the two cases, a line to be drawn, but modern religion has failed to do so.

Academia and religion both punt on an important topic.  Amateurs pick up the ball.

Will Wilkinson’s piece on use of shaky evolutionary psychology to explain dating behavior reminds of me a question I’ve always found mysterious: why isn’t more serious thought put into explaining dating behavior?

Wilkinson:

One day a tidy disquisition explaining why human behavioral ecology is the bees non-vulgar knees will issue forth upon this page, but until that glorious day I present to you Lucia, a “dating/relationship expert specializing in Cougar relationships,” and two of her “12 Reasons Women Can’t Stand Nice Guys.”

It’s clear Wilkinson disapproves of this particular analysis of dating, but unless he presents an alternative explanation to a set of important and interesting questions, he hasn’t advanced the discussion very far.  I’ve never seen a particularly good discussion of the simple, quite empirically testable question, “What percentage of women can stand nice guys?”  I know the answer isn’t zero, since my dad’s a pretty nice guy, and my mom seems to like him okay.  Lacking serious-minded analysis, the rational response is to skeptically apply the weak theory that’s out there.  A map drawn by a five year-old is better than no map at all.

Honestly, what would happen if you polled women across a range of ages and relationship statuses, with two questions: “On a scale of 1-7, How much do you like nice men” and, if appropriate, “On a scale of 1-7, How nice is the man you’re in a relationship with?”  A lot of words have been written on this topic, very few of them by particularly serious thinkers.  I once read Neil Strauss’s book The Game, which contains some fairly innovative theories, some of them supported by anecdotal evidence, or some of the wishy-washy evolutionary pysch that Wilkinson decries.  Why don’t academic social scientists study these hypotheses?  Putting aside sweeping theories of why dating behavior, start with a fact base.  For instance, testing whether stuff like this works.  It’s not a difficult study to design.

Of course, there is a small number of academics asking these questions, but at most universities, the field most likely to ask these questions is Gender Studies, which is generally classified in the humanities, and not approached with the scientific rigor I’m looking for.  This is a topic that’s ripe for investigation by economists, psychologists, sociologists, if not creation of a field specific to the topic.  Why are questions about dating studied so significantly less important than, say, questions about politics, which has multiple academic fields devoted to it?